Monday, August 7, 2017
We have NOVICE legislators learning ON THE JOB!
Weekly Opinion Editorial
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE-
THE MORE THEY REMAIN THE SAME!
by Steve Fair
When term limits for state legislators was overwhelmingly passed by Oklahoma voters in September 1990, those who opposed the limits said the loss of ‘institutional knowledge’ would result in a government run by the bureaucrats. Supporters of term limits said that was hogwash and the turnover of lawmakers would result in true citizen legislators. They envisioned Oklahomans who would go to 23rd and Lincoln serve for 12 years and then come back home and go back into the private sector. Both sides were wrong.
First, the ‘institutional knowledge’ that controlled Oklahoma state government before term limits had led the state to the bottom in virtually every economical category, so losing that leadership wasn’t a mistake. Before term limits, the legislature was controlled by a small group that was beholden to no one. State lawmakers served decades and graft, corruption, kickbacks, and bribery was standard operating procedure. That ‘institutional knowledge’ maintained the status quo and grew Oklahoma government to where we had the most state government employees per capita in the United States. We led the nation in the diversion of federal highway funds for other uses- and the list goes on and on. It couldn’t have gotten worse.
Second, along comes term limits and instead of ‘citizen legislators’ replacing the career politicians, like advocates for term limits expected, the ‘clueless’ replaced them. Candidates emerged who had never paid attention to state government and didn’t understand state government got elected. These novice lawmakers relied on leadership to guide them and that leadership grew government. Many of them view the legislative job as a stepping stone to a higher office, or a lifetime government position, exactly like the career politicians terms limits promised to eliminate.
Has legislative term limits been good for Oklahoma? Yes, as a whole. It has allowed some really good people to serve in the legislature that likely wouldn’t have if not for term limits. It has purged the legislature of most of the ‘good ole boy’ network that held us back for nearly a century. But you can’t prove by the numbers that term limits has resulted in better Oklahoma state government. Our economic rankings still remain near the bottom. We still export our most valuable resource- our children- to other states for jobs. We still have too many school districts and far too many regional colleges and tech centers. We haven’t diversified economically and continue to heavily depend on the energy sector. Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French journalist said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
The answer isn't scrapping term limits. The answer is elected people who know something about the issues facing state government BEFORE they get to 23rd and Lincoln. Lawmakers can't be 'learning on the job'- not when they are spending my money.